U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Eritrea
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Eritrea, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3d30.html [accessed 12 December 2017]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
ERITREAEritrea became an independent state in 1993, following an internationally monitored referendum in which citizens voted overwhelmingly for independence from Ethiopia. The Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), which led the 30-year war for independence, has controlled the country since it defeated Ethiopian armed forces in 1991; its leader, Isaias Afwerki, serves as President. The People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), the core of the former EPLF, which split off from the Government in 1994 is the sole political party. The Government did not fulfill its stated program to hold elections in 1997; elections are planned for 1998. However, there was some progress in democratization. In 1994 the National Assembly, partially appointed by the PFDJ leadership and partially elected, created a 50-member National Constitutional Commission to draft a constitution. After a broad process of consultation and civic education, the Constitution was ratified by a constituent assembly elected from newly elected local assemblies on May 24. It provides for democratic freedoms, but public understanding of its implications remains limited. The judiciary remains independent but weak. The police are generally responsible for maintaining internal security, although the Government may call on the 40,000-member armed forces, the reserves, and demobilized soldiers in times of internal disorder. The army is responsible for external and border security. Since 1993 the army has been forced to deal with the Eritrean Islamic Jihad (EIJ), a small, Sudan-based insurgent group that has mounted terrorist attacks in northern and western Eritrea. Increased EIJ activity, coupled with a buildup of Sudanese forces along the Western border, led the Government to increase security and deploy much the army to the West. Some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses. Eritrea began a transition from a deteriorating centrally planned economy to a free-market economy through the privatization of formerly state-owned enterprises and the liberalization of investment and trade. While trade, services, and manufacturing provide the greatest portion of gross domestic product, the rural economy is largely based on subsistence agriculture, with more than 70 percent of the population of 3.6 million involved in farming and herding. The small industrial sector consists mainly of light industries, many using outmoded technologies. International economic assistance has accounted for a significant portion of external revenues, with loans replacing grants. The country is extremely poor, with an average annual per capita income of less than $238. The Government generally respected the rights of its citizens in some areas, but serious problems remain. Citizens do not have the right to change their government, which is dominated by the PFDJ. Although a constituent assembly ratified a new constitution, the Government did not fulfill its stated program for a transition to democracy by 1997. The Government does not permit prison visits and arbitrary arrest and detention is a problem. An unknown number of persons suspected of association with the Ethiopian Mengistu regime, radical Islamic elements, or terrorist organizations remain in detention. The undeveloped judicial system limits the provision of speedy trials, and the use of military courts limits due process. The Government restricts press freedom, including the rights of the religious media, and limits freedom of association. The Government restricts religious freedom and freedom of movement. There are no domestic or international human rights organizations. Societal discrimination against women is a problem, and female genital mutilation (FGM) remains widespread.